Monday, January 06, 2014

Epiphany and Mission

Lutherans have two things over Catholics when it comes to liturgy: 1) The Sundays Catholics call "ordinary time" after Christmas and before Lent Lutherans call "1st, 2nd, etc. Sunday of Epiphany." 2) The Sundays Catholics call "ordinary time after Easter and before Advent, Lutherans call "nth Sunday of Pentecost" (or actually Whitsunday in my old Lutheran hymnal, which loses the effect somewhat.

I like that so much better. Another way to deal with this is to realize (as I wrote once before) that Pentecost is our ordinary. I would also add of course that Epiphany is our ordinary. And in the last few years I am coming to a growing appreciation of what that means.

It took me awhile to realize that the feast of Epiphany has been trying to get my attention for years. I wrote this last year, this in 2010 (as well as this, apparently before I learned to spell the word), and then of course there was that whole "joining the choir" story which happened on Epiphany Sunday of 2009 that I feel like I have told to death. Well, I see that the Church would have us reflect on Epiphany as Jesus' entering into his earthly ministry, and therefore we should think of our entering into His ministry also. Hence, the connection with Pentecost/ordinary time. The "ordinary" thing is that we live the supernatural ministry of Christ on earth in time and space in and through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Living the liturgical year makes me want to stagger with the beauty of it all. We grow; it moves us onward. It moves us onward; we grow. We don't cycle through "the same old thing" every year any more than lovers experience "the same old thing" in being together day after day.

Epiphany, like Pentecost, needs to be understood and experienced subjectively. God personally empowers because He personally calls. He calls me to fulfill a certain mission that is mine within Christ's all encompassing mission of the salvation of souls. Serving Christ means serving His mission to bring His love home to roost in more and more souls. His love is the power of salvation, the power to heal, to make whole, to make right, to restore, to raise up in royal splendor, to share His own life. To bring people into union with Him.

How does anyone really do that? I mean, try as I might, there ain't nothin' I can do to make another person love God or know God. Only God can really do that.

I see that my call is to love God with all my heart, which doesn't so much mean having a certain set of feelings or going through a checklist of behaviors. It means giving myself to Him as a gift. For me, it seems to mean saying, "Here I am, Lord" and then simply remaining there. It's that whole Carmelite idea of emptying oneself, making room for the God who fills. I can't fill myself; I can make nothing of the sort happen. But I can offer myself. I can die to myself by giving myself in love and service to the people in my life. I can desire God, and love others to demonstrate that desire. I can long. The longing, the giving, the being-open, the emptying -- these are all really evidences of the God Who is there, making all of that possible. No human could do these things merely hoping the universe is not an empty, heartless mechanistic cipher.

That's a weird mission. Maybe. But it really is only the presence of God that draws souls into union with Him, and therefore it is only through souls who know this surrender that God can draw souls into union with Him, because that whole Church thing is God's plan. Oh, I would also say that simply by baptismal grace God is present through us; we don't need to be some weird mystic freak to draw people (though it seems to help). No, I take that back. In reality, the definition of a Christian actually is "weird mystic freak," if one must put it that way. God's divine life present in a human being by grace brings the mystery of God into human experience, and that is the essence of Christianity. Without that dimension we just have a set of moral guidelines and good people trying to carry them out.

Epiphany is not through with me yet. I'm sure we've only just begun...

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